Lubuntu, Kubuntu, Ubuntu and Mint

I run Ubuntu 10.10 on my primary machine, a now-aged Lenovo Y510. I used to upgrade the minute I could get my hands on a newer release, but the novelty has worn off, and I can’t spare the time these days to get my system back to how it should be, customising and/or fixing things, after an upgrade. After the last few upgrades, I’ve kept my system for quite a while, and waiting more than six months also makes the upgrade more worthwhile!

My first Linux distro that I used on my primary machine was Mandriva, in 2005, but I switched to the Ubuntu family in 2006, starting with Kubuntu 6.06 and then Kubuntu 6.10.

I like KDE (the ‘K’ in Kubuntu) but switched in around May 2007 to Ubuntu 7.04 around May 2007, which runs Gnome instead of KDE as a window manager, after realising that Kubuntu was substantially lagging Ubuntu, and ended up sticking with Ubuntu while KDE came unstuck with some troublesome KDE4 teething problems, upgrading to Ubuntu 7.10 and 8.04. I then stuck with Ubuntu 8.04 all the way until January 2010 after Ubuntu 8.10 proved a little too intrepid for me. Ubuntu 8.04 was a long-term support release, and was stable and worked well for me. I still use it on some of the Ethical Co-op office machines.

In January 2010 I tried Linux Mint 8, which I was very happy with and which became, after a long time of installing Ubuntu for new Linux users (even while I was using Kubuntu), my new default install for others.

Linux Mint has a clear and simple focus – usability and ease of use, and it performs it well.

In October 2010 I got itchy feet and upgraded to Ubuntu 10.10, which proved a stable and polished release, and which I’ve been using ever since, albeit while still installing Linux Mint for new users.

Recently though, with all the excitement of Ubuntu’s switch to Unity from Gnome, and the new Kubuntu receiving rave reviews, as well as Lubuntu moving closer to official status, I decided to take a look at the latest releases.

This overview is based on a short and superficial look at the Live CD’s. In a frenzy of burning I burnt Lubuntu 11.04, Kubuntu 11.04, Ubuntu 11.04 and Linux Mint 11.

Kubuntu 11.04
I loved KDE in the early days, only moving over to Gnome and Ubuntu when realising Kubuntu was not nearly as polished as Ubuntu, and when KDE had some serious wobbles with the move to KDE4.

Kubuntu 11.04 struck me with it’s visual effects – pure eye candy, pretty, and immensely customisable. I spent the most time on the Kubuntu Live CD, simply because there was so much to try. Various window effects and settings allow one to fine-tune the user experience. KDE, unlike Gnome and Unity, appears complex because of the variety of options available, something that has a certain appeal.

However, on my old Lenovo Y510, Kubuntu on the Live CD was sluggish. The browser didn’t scroll properly, and, eventually trying to activate a particular desktop setting, the system crashed. Not great when I had only one application open.

I like KDE, and if I had some new hardware I would seriously look at Kubuntu again for personal use, but I wouldn’t suggest it for new Linux users, and until I upgrade my hardware and see whether that would make a difference to stability, I’ll stick to my current setup.

Ubuntu 11.04
Unity is a fairly radical desktop change, and I think it’s going the right way. With modern resolutions, vertical screen space is at a premium, so the Unity interface on the left of screen allows for maximum vertical space. The icons are big, almost cartoony, and I can see myself happily using and recommending Unity. Unity is a polar opposite from KDE – there’s very little customisation available, so it may seem strange I like both the customisation of KDE and the lack in Unity. It’s probably the novelty of both that appeals, but I can see myself approving of the lazy way, and really enjoying Unity. However, it still felt a little unpolished. There was some strange behaviour while trying to customise what I could. Trying to minimise and maximise windows as well as call up available options I found that, for no apparent reason, the window moved to another workspace. Also, each time I resized a window, it would resize inconsistently, each time further to the right with less visible. Strange behaviour which I can’t see the thinking behind, and potentially annoying for new users used to old behaviour.

The notorious new scrollbars were also annoying. I can see the thinking behind them – a further attempt to make the best use of the visible space. However, this comes at the cost of usability. I repeatedly found myself having to make finicky mouse moves to get the scrollbar to work, or accidentally clicking something next to the scrollbar causing some unexpected and unwanted behaviour.

I like the thinking behind Unity, and will certainly look again at the next release, but until it’s slightly more polished I will stick with what I have.

Linux Mint 11
Mint, which early on was a pretty version of Ubuntu aiming for greater usability, still runs Gnome 2, so there’s little new there. Strangely, after the attractiveness of both Kubuntu and Ubuntu, Mint’s default setup appeared the least attractive, with the default wallpaper most to blame. It’s a change from Mint’s usual green colour them and with slanting text that looked very date, and I would certainly change it if I was installing for someone else – there are the usual green-themed attractive alternatives available to do so.

Mint’s major improvement from when I last looked has been the Software Manager. It’s now quicker, more attractive and usable, and contains reviews. At a glance I couldn’t see what the score vs star rating was, or how one app with 1 review and 3 stars can get a score of 0, while another with seemingly equivalent reviews and star ratings has a higher score – it isn’t obvious at first glance what the score is measuring. Nevertheless, the feature makes the software manager a lot more friendly, and one knows whether one is installing a popular recommendation, or something untried and bleeding-edge.

However, Mint has inherited the scrollbars from Ubuntu, something I think they should have disabled by default. Mint is based on Ubuntu, and when the next version of Ubuntu drops support for Gnome 2 entirely, Mint will have a decision to make – whether to move to Unity (or Gnome 3), or continue to support Gnome 2. Already there are alternative Mint flavours, and the ones based on Debian rather than Ubuntu are receiving increasing prominence.

Otherwise, Mint 11 was its usual polished and solid self.

Lubuntu 11.04
I first looked at Lubuntu 10.10 when I installed it on an archaic machine that I couldn’t get anything else to work with – it performed well, but was hardly appealing, appearing unpolished and with the default lightweight apps lagging far behind the Ubuntu and Kubuntu equivalents, so after hearing of Lubuntu’s progress towards official status, and some substantial improvements, I was looking forward to 11.04. However, I couldn’t get the Lubuntu 11.04 Live CD to work. The disk verified, but wouldn’t boot into X on my system, and there appeared to be nothing I could do from the Live CD environment to get it to work. A pity, as I was looking forward to exploring.

Overall, nothing is compelling me to upgrade from Ubuntu 10.10, but Linux Mint 11 will be my recommended install for anyone new to Linux, and, if I’m doing the installing, with the new scrollbars disabled and a different (anything!) wallpaper.

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